Sunday, May 28, 2006


The American Roman Catholic church is undergoing a core theological controversy.
One with much less painful examination and victimization than the sexual abuse scandals, or even that of the Opus Dei’s battle for its reputation against the DaVinci Code’s book and movie portrayals.

But the recent positional change from “kneeling to standing” during the Eucharist, though seemingly inane at first glance, is primordially symbolic to how humans communicate our most basic interchanges with each other, in support of our beliefs, through the messages of our bodies. It’s calisthenical thought, for all of us, on the meaning of gesture.

Long the subject of Protestant giggles as testament to the impersonalized feudalistic Christianity that Roman Catholicism embodied, the rote, ritualistic “stand- sit- kneel” instructional during the liturgical Mass, is both comfortable choreography and reminder of willing group obedience for adherents, a deference of self to belief and community.

The church has since Vatican II in the 60s been known to accommodate its rituals to democratize its traditions: a universal Latin- language Mass gave way to each country’s native speech, the elimination of female head veils, taking communion by hand as opposed to outstretched tongue, and the almost hippie-like hand-shake of “peace be with you” now prescribed (uncomfortably for many) to be exchanged between all fellow-congregants within each other’s pew’s reach.

Apparently, this latest issue concerning genuflection was generated four years ago during the US Church’s Revised Adaptations to the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani. While kneeling has long been regarded as a respectful display of awe in belief of Christ’s transformation, the new adherence to “not kneel” is a return to the earliest centuries of the Church, seeing Jesus as a man-God, and linking our individual mortal roots from devine origin as possibility of achieving our own acts of goodness. A cyclo-revolutionary stance that Christians can choose to become “Christ-like” in their actions to others and a union of sorts akin to the Hebrew Jehovah’s original YHVH origins of godhead, meaning “to move from that which is, to that which ought to be.

But at least one priest is getting down-right ‘fire and brimstone’, forcing his congregation to comply with this stance of equality under threat of excommunication. The LA Times reported today that Huntingdon Beach’s Father Martin Tran, a new pastor at St. Mary's by the Sea, told his flock in a church bulletin that
“Kneeling is clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin.”
Rather than guiding his flock in the spirit of loving Sheppard of the church, he is old-school ruler-berating them as transgressors against his holy lead. Turns out the doctrinal change by the US Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy is not mandatory, but meant to be a flexible choice for American Catholics. Father Tran’s obsessive flagellative posturing reminds one of Bush’s neo-cons buddies’ self-decreed manifest destiny of forced world democratized dominion, no matter the human cost or reason.

To kneel or stand or bow. To kiss or hug, to wave or shake someone’s hand; to cover one’s face or head, to greet cheek- to- cheek, or maybe rub noses. Moslems prostrate, Buddhists and Hindus meditate in the lotus. Americans applaud after their anthem, while other nations regard silent after-thought as more reverential to their anthems. Every culture— and animal in the natural world, in fact— chooses its physical phylum of respect and decorum, and its degree of offense when not observed; a fine line to which manifest gesture is revered or penalized.

Those who follow the libertine, aka much of Howard Stern’s generated in- your- face anti-censorship non-methodology, may say “kiss my ass.” But to those of us who revere the creative there is a courtly beauty in, at least , occasional submission to ritualistic (e)motion, be it with a lover, to a faith, or a nation. (The missionary position is included in the Kama Sutra, after all.)

The danger is not in agreed rules of order themselves, so much in their process and created intent of ordained abuse against individual freedom. The US, like the political Catholic Church has much to apologize for, in its historical laws against human dignity. In America, the FCC, the Supreme Court and Congress, are mandated to maintain the balance of open individual freedom of speech, while ensuring rules of order benefiting the nation, as a whole. The failure to recognize this duty of protecting free speech, while bending-over to special interests, is the crime perpetuated against We the People, our Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

In love and sex, life and politics, sometimes the way we touch or nod our head or utter a word, metaphorical or actual, can make all the difference. True sin is in the dehumanized intent against the body, mind and soul. Quoting HBO’s Ali G character, it’s all about “Respec!”— how we show it and how we earn it, while we move about the world we create.

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